Wow, thank you Dave for that warm and generous introduction. So often when that happens people say, “I wish my mother could have heard that . . . .” Well, I am proud to say that both of my parents are here—Stu and Sheila Salkin—thank you for being with me today.
Members of the Committee on Women in the Law, thank you for bestowing upon me this great honor. There is truly, in my mind, no more meaningful recognition from this Association than the Ruth Schapiro Award.
It is for me, this year, bittersweet. I had envisioned that in the audience today, like most years gone by, one of the great women lawyers—the one all of us strive to emulate, a former Ruth Schapiro honoree—Judith Kaye, would have been here to share in this moment with me. She always supported this Association and the women in particular—and while she was always physically present, today her spirit and presence is felt because she was a significant door-opener, mentor, and role model not just for me, but for so many of us. Like so many other women attorneys this week, I too wear my red in her honor.
Members of the House of Delegates, I have to admit that while I have been very comfortable standing before this great body in the past to present sometimes controversial reports and recommendations, I stand before you today, humbled and a bit nervous because first, it is easier to give than to receive, and second, because of how I internalize the responsibility going forward that comes with this award—an obligation to always do more and do better for women in the profession.
I could have used my few minutes to thank myriad men and women who were my mentors and role models—people like George Carpinello who opened a door on academia that changed my life. My grandmother of blessed memory—Anne Gustin—a child of immigrant parents who lived through the Depression and gave up her professional passion and career aspirations to help her family survive—and who was the constant whisper in my ear as a child that I should become a lawyer. I might also spend time telling you about my uncle, David Greenberg, also of blessed memory, and how he let me work in his law firm when I was in high school—feeding my voracious appetite for the power of the law, or John Baker, the former Dean at Albany Law School who believed in me so early on in my career to give me the unbelievable platform to build a nationally recognized think tank where I could help change the laws for the better every day. And, now President Alan Kadish and the senior leadership of Touro College and the faculty at Touro Law Center who have afforded me with the opportunity to impact legal education reform in an era of a rapidly changing profession, and who have entrusted me with a great law school committed to social justice, access to the profession, and service to our community. And of course my partner in every sense of the word—my husband of 30 years—Howard Gross . . . we go through this adventure together, and you should be up here with me because these accomplishments and dreams are supported and only realized with you by my side every step of the way.
I also want to thank the incredible women and men who had something to do with my nomination—Patti Desrochers; Touro Professor Eileen Kaufman, a former Ruth Schapiro honoree; Carol Van Scoyoc, chair of the Municipal Law Section; the team at the Pace Land Use Law Center—Prof. John Nolon, Jessica Bacher, Tiffany Zezzula, and Jennie Nolon; two of my students who inspire me every day—Dennise Mira and Heidi Kolence; David Schraver and Kate Grant Madigan—two past presidents of this Association, and Kate, I kvelled the day you received the Ruth Schapiro award; Rosemarie Tully, Erica Levine Powers, Tara Scully, and my former colleague from Albany Prof. Jenean Taranto, thank you.
Based on this and what you have heard, you might think, Okay, Salkin, great, sit down, you’re living the dream.
On the contrary, things are not so great.
In this room are leaders of the bench and bar, advocates for social justice and protectors of the Rule of Law, and in this room are the people who will chart a better tomorrow for women in the profession and for women in society. Our challenges are great and our agenda is serious, but I know that we are all up to the task.
In the legal profession women still have a long way to go. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the American Association of Law Schools created a Committee on Women in Legal Education— and, by the way, a man was its first chair. This New York State Bar Association led the way for other bar associations, in 1986, with the establishment of the Committee on Women in the Law. The ABA followed in 1987 creating the Commission on Women in the Profession to assess the status of women in the legal profession, identify barriers to advancement, and recommend to the ABA actions to address problems identified. That was the same year that we elected our first female president of this Association 110 years after our founding— Maryann Saccamondo Freeman. Since then, in the last almost 30 years, we have only had four more women presidents—Catherine Richardson, Lorraine Power Tharp, Kate Grant Madigan, and Bernice Leber. But we are poised to make a quick statistical change with Claire Gudakunst and Sharon Gerstman following my good friend and great leader, Dave Miranda. Ellen Makofsy, your leadership of the Committee on Women in Law and the time you spend with law students and young women starting out on their careers is a gift of time that is priceless and selfless.
I can only imagine that if Ruth Schapiro were with us today, she would be proud of all of our women bar leaders . . . and especially pleased with one of her Proskauer successes—Claire Gudakunst. In fact I believe it was Ruth who introduced you, Claire, to our Bar. [Ruth was a nationally regarded tax lawyer who was the first female partner at Proskauer. Active in the state bar, she was the first chair of the Committee on Women in the Law, the chair of the Tax Section and the Finance Committee, and one of the first women to serve on the Executive Committee.]
With women representing roughly half of the students in law schools today, we must and can do better to open more pathways to leadership. But this is just a small glimpse of the bigger picture.
Over the last few years there have been a number of disturbing studies and reports issued documenting how women are losing ground in our stride toward equality in the profession. For example, only 20% of law school deans in this country are women, women comprise less than 25% of the federal bench, and nationally just over 25% of state judgeships. From this flow many consequences. Thirty years ago in 1986 a Task Force Report from OCA on Women in the Courts started with the following statement: “The New York Task Force on Women in the Courts has concluded that gender bias against women litigants, attorneys, and court employees is a pervasive problem with grave consequences. Women are often denied equal justice, equal treatment, and equal opportunity.” The report continues, “With leadership there will be change. Ultimately, reform depends on the willingness of bench and bar to engage in intense self-examination and on the public’s resolve to demand a justice system more fully committed to fairness and equality.” And while it is true that we have made inroads, it is staggering how much more we must do.
Catalyst’s recent data on Women in the Law in the U.S. reveals significant gender gaps and posits that given the (slow) rate of change, it will take more than a woman lawyer’s lifetime to achieve equality. **** I don’t know about you, but I don’t have more than a lifetime to wait, and we need to wake up before the work of those who came before us is unraveled even more. ****
Fifty years ago a woman earned 59 cents to every dollar earned by a man, and today, according to a recent report by the Association of University Women it has risen: 79 cents to a man’s dollar. Put in another way, women have achieved a mere 20 cents in 50 years. According to the ABA, the wage gap continues to persist across all professions, for all races, at all educational levels, and in all geographic areas. Former ABA President Laurel Bellows wrote that for lawyers, women’s pay is not equal to men’s, and that the gap amounts to between $700,000 and $2 million during a woman’s lifetime. She spoke about how the glass ceiling continues to limit women’s progress in the practice of law, including implicit bias and hidden stereotypes. She noted that the percentage of women equity partners has remained static at 16% or less, and that 85% of women of color leave large firms after five years. I could go on with the data, but the June 2014 report of our Committee on Women in the Law is chock full of sobering statistics and citations.
When asked what law firms could do to address this data, Bellows responded that firms can create a climate where senior partners mentor entry-level women associates and sponsor, not simply mentor, women to ensure their success. The most important thing she said, however, is that women must also shoulder the responsibility of sponsoring other women and promoting the achievements of other women inside and outside of their organization.
I am asking each one of you here today, regardless of whether you work in the public, private, or nonprofit sector, to join me in committing to mentoring, sponsoring, and promoting other women. If we were to line up shoulder to shoulder, what a strong foundation we would create to lift up others who can take our goals, our desires, and our passions to the next level.
Let me give you an example. The name Shirley Adelson Siegel should ring a bell for you. She was the only woman in the Yale Law School class of 1941. She has something in common with Ruth Schapiro. Shirley struggled to find work as a lawyer until Proskauer Rose hired her as their first female attorney. She later joined the NYS Department of Law and among other things worked in the Civil Rights Bureau, where she helped enforce fair hiring practices for women and minorities in trade unions and airlines, and helped get a law through the State Legislature banning sex discrimination. I can’t begin to explain how it feels when I get letters from Shirley telling me that she read my latest communications from Touro Law and how proud she is of me; or, the coveted times I have been fortunate to spend visiting with her and talking about her pioneering role in land use, open space, affordable housing, and listening to her memories of arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Even at the young age of 97, today Shirley gives me her shoulder, provides me with motivation and inspiration, and takes the time to tell another woman lawyer—I’m watching and “you go girl!” Shirley, thank you for coming today.
One of my other heroines is Kate Stoneman—not because we went to the same college and law school, but because she was a risk taker and a strong advocate for what she believed.
Recognized by this Association as a Woman Trailblazer, Kate took the NYS Bar Exam in 1885, becoming the first woman to pass. But she was denied admission because of her gender. She went to the governor and the legislature to get a law passed to permit the admission of qualified applicants without regard to sex or race. It passed and she became New York’s first woman lawyer. An activist in the suffrage and temperance movements, Kate stated a message to younger women—“They must take their opportunities as they come. Always, there are opportunities to be had.” I try to take as many opportunities as I am afforded Dear Kate, and I never take for granted that I may be privileged with more opportunities than others, and I pledge with each one to make a positive difference.
My son Jordan, who is away in college, is here with me today thanks to the streaming technology. To my daughter Sydney who is in the house—we are both fond of Eleanor Rooseveltisms—so remember, Sydney, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Syd, I know that one day I am going to see you sitting in this House of Delegates with passion and conviction for making a difference in the lives of others.
I want to give a special shout out to my colleagues from Touro College and Touro Law Center who made the time to be present today, as well as family and friends. Thank you.
And thank you again to the Committee on Women in the Law and to the Bar Association for giving me the honor of standing humbly before you today.